The swish surrounding for the official launch of Albert Hammond (OBE)’s new ‘In Symphony’ orchestral album is everything you might expect for a singer songwriter who has enjoyed 30 chart-topping hits in various pop, r&b, country, adult contemporary and Latin charts. Yet despite shifting over 360 million units in a 47 year career, as well a being inducted into the songwriters hall of fame, the man before us tonight seems almost bemused by it all.
He’s an impossibly vibrant 72 year old , a fact that over the course of the next hour reveals itself as being mostly due to his undiminished passion for his music and the fact he’s never stopped penning timeless songs.
He’s also a singer-songwriter who has never lost touch with reality, as evidenced by his clear recall of his early days of busking outside a Madrid station.
The sharp contrast between the man and his surroundings is further extended by the focus on his lavish new album, and the reason we are all here tonight.
‘In Symphony’ is a full blown orchestration of some of his most essential pop songs. Unlike so many collision course meetings between popular music and the classical format, tonight’s accompanying film – screened immediately after the question & answer session – amplifies his melodic depth and frames his own stirring vocal performance.
As he hits the chorus of ‘The Air That I Breathe’, the lens captures a magical moment which suggests he’s waited all his life to deliver his lines in such an uplifting orchestral setting. And you would have to be something of a cynic not to be moved such a highly charged performance.
He showcases some of the same album tracks for us in stripped down unplugged mode, and intersperses the songs with revealing anecdotes. It’s not difficult to see how his story telling ability translates easily into heartfelt song narratives.
Hosted by the genial Johnnie Walker – the man who single single-handedly plugged ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’ back in the 70′s, though it was never a hit in the UK – the Q & A session illustrates the point that Albert has never been troubled by genres, changing fashions or record company expectations.
His forte lies in shaping melodies, penning memorable hooks and in the case of the autobiographical ‘It Never Rains’, illustrates his the ability to make an emotional connection with people.
Such is his spirit of independence that when he was approached by his current label to record something, he realised he could fulfil a lifetime’s ambition of orchestrating some of the more well known songs in his back catalogue.
And what a catalogue it is! The album opens with his own ‘It Never Rains…’ and ‘I Am A Train’ and also revisits ‘The Free Electric Band’ as well as his own Spanish songs like ‘Estrellita’ and Celine Dion’s ‘Alejate’.
Then there’s Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’, Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias’s ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’, Diana Ross’s ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’, Starship’s, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, The Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe’ and even Aswad’s Don’t Turn Around’.
Hammond enjoys a durable legacy that remains untroubled by his novelty hits with Leapy Lea or Pipkins, probably because he would view them as just a different approach to songwriting.
Tonight he exudes a Candide style fascination with the way his career has turned out, which reflects his mother’s belief that someone is watching over him.
His anecdotes are as poignant and reflective as they are funny and on occasions incredible. In explaining the original idea for ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’, he places it in the context of so many of his collaboratve songs – on this occasion with lyricist Mike Hazelwood – and tells us that it was written on a rainy day in Fulham and came about through a misheard book title. And though the song is essentially about his own career, it has the kind of universal sensibility that people still relate to decades after he wrote it.
Truth is he’s probably recounted most of these tales for years, but he exudes the vibe of someone who revels in his song craft, still enjoys performing and is a people person.
Tonight is really all about the elasticity and sheer quality of his melodic pop songs. The new album is a timely reminder of an enduring career that is about to be re-energized by Rob Mathes’s lush arrangements, which will surely expand Hammond’s intuitive crossover appeal still further.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes at MHP Studios
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